Are CEO's jumping on the Social Media Bandwagon?

I continue to have clients come to me asking, “Our company understands the importance of being on social media / and doing ‘social business’, but how do we sell this to our CEO?”

That’s a great question. Trying to convince the C-Suite can be quite the challenge.

Just recently, IBM did a study of some 1,700 CEOs worldwide and reported findings that many are now seeing social media as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation.

According to the IBM CEO study, the companies that outperform their peers are 30 percent more likely to identify what IBM called “openness” as a key way to influence the growth of their organization.  Openness in the IBM lexicon means embracing social media and better use of collaboration. The idea is to a certain extent to “tap into the collective intelligence of an organization to devise new ideas and solutions for increased profitability and growth,” IBM stated.

Some of the interesting items in the IBM CEO survey included:

To forge closer connections with customers, partners and a new generation of employees in the future, CEOs will shift their focus from using email and the phone as primary communication vehicles to using social networks as a new path for direct engagement. Today, only 16 percent of CEOs are using social business platforms to connect with customers, but that number is poised to spike to 57 percent within the next three to five years. While social media is the least utilised of all customer interaction methods today, it stands to become the number two organizational engagement method within the next five years.

The report states that more than half of CEOs (53 percent) are planning to use technology to facilitate greater partnering and collaboration with outside organizations, while 52% are shifting their attention to promoting internal collaboration (we shall see). ( study.jpg)

The one thing that CEO’s are always worried about are the risks. Openness increases vulnerability, and trying to figure out how to proactively prepare for the unknown is quite scary. Social networks can provide a worldwide stage to any employee interaction, positive or negative, and for organizations to operate effectively in this kind of environment, it takes educating our employees on the organization’s key values, culture, and mission.

When CEO’s think in terms of “collaborative innovation,” they are not thinking in terms of delegating this to their HR leaders. According to the above study, the business executives who were polled stated they are interested in leading by example.

The study showed that these CEOs regarded interpersonal skills of collaboration (75 percent), communication (67 percent), creativity (61 percent) and flexibility (61 percent) as key drivers of employee success to operate in a more complex, interconnected environment.

A majority (71 percent in fact) of global CEOs regard technology as the number one factor to impact an organization’s future over the next three years - and consider it to be a bigger change agent than shifting economic and market conditions.

Of course, the old “ROI” question always comes up, and rightly so. Trying to figure out how to track data online -- on mobile phones and social media sites -- when you can’t use the traditional marketing analytics, is something that causes hesitation. However, to remain relevant in a technological environment is something that CEOs must consider when thinking in terms of engaging not only their customers, but their employees as well. And as Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice-President of IBM Global Business Services stated:

"Rather than repeating the familiar lament about de-personalizing human relationships, this view leans heavily in favor of deepening them through the use of dynamic social networks to harness collective intelligence to unlock new models of collaboration.”

In the end, it comes down to the “Trust Factor.” Face-to-face, the physical contact, creates and maintains trust on a small-scale, but is the most effective. Social networks are cost-effective technologies that expand wider transparency and trust, both inside and outside the organization -- with employers and their employees, as well as their customers. They drive sharing, accountability and loyalty.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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